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McDonald’s Workers Take ‘Fight For 15’ To Kansas City Franchises

Terrance Wise with Stand Up KC addresses protesters at McDonald's
Frank Morris
KCUR 89.3
Terrence Wise with Stand Up KC addresses protesters at McDonald's.

McDonald's workers across the country staged a one-day strike to demand higher pay and a union. After working to raise the minimum wage for eight years, activists say they are starting to see results.

McDonald's USA recently announced plans to raise the average wage in company-owned restaurants to $15 per hour. McDonald’s says this amounts to a 10% pay hike for more than 36,000 workers.

But Terrence Wise with Stand Up KC, a group of food and retail workers advocating for better wages, notes that the company owns only about 5% of McDonald's locations. The rest, like the Main Street store in Kansas City where dozens of picketers converged Wednesday, are franchise restaurants. Wise says corporate should force franchisees to follow suit.

“They have the ability to tell us what uniforms to wear, which straws to use, how to hand the bags out — that's at a franchise or corporate,” says Wise. “So, they also have the ability to lift wages at all these stores as well.”

Wise is a national leader in the Fight for $15 movement and will address McDonald’s shareholders in their annual meeting, which will be held virtually on Thursday.

“It’s the responsibility of federal and local government to set minimum wage, and we’re open to dialogue so that any changes meet the needs of thousands of hardworking restaurant employees and the 2,000 McDonald’s independent owner/operators who run small businesses," a statement from McDonald's USA said.

Higher wages aren’t protestors' only demand. Kansas City pastor Donna Simon says food service workers were called heroes during the pandemic for keeping restaurants open while putting themselves at higher risk of contracting COVID. But she says they still don’t receive the benefits many Americans take for granted.

“No paid sick leave. No vacation," says Simon. "There is a cost to being a hero, but so far, there hasn't been much of a benefit."

Simon says a company reporting $4.73 billion in net income for 2020 should be able to afford to make some concessions.

The strike was only a one-day affair, but Wise says such actions do make a difference. When the Fight for $15 started, Wise says he was making $7.50 an hour working at McDonald's. Eight years later, he’s making $15.75 an hour.

But that doesn’t mean his financial worries are over. Wise says he and his family are currently living in a hotel after being evicted from their previous home.

I’ve been at KCUR almost 30 years, working partly for NPR and splitting my time between local and national reporting. I work to bring extra attention to people in the Midwest, my home state of Kansas and of course Kansas City. What I love about this job is having a license to talk to interesting people and then crafting radio stories around their voices. It’s a big responsibility to uphold the truth of those stories while condensing them for lots of other people listening to the radio, and I take it seriously. Email me at frank@kcur.org or find me on Twitter @FrankNewsman.
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